1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
A freewill theist shared his interpretation of verse 4 to be saying this:
Just as “in Christ” means the blessing was through Christ, so also was the choosing through Christ. Because Christ is elect, and because we are united to Christ, we are said to be chosen in him, i.e. we are elect in him. We are elected by virtue or in relation to our position in Christ. It is through Christ that we are chosen.
I think there are several problems with this understanding of the text. He takes it to mean that we are chosen by God because we are “in Christ”. That implies that we were chosen at the moment that we chose to believe. That seems patently false because the verse already explains when this choice was made “before the creation of the world”. This also assumes that when we chose to place our faith in Christ that we do so with libertarian freedom. But why grant that assumption? Salvation is dependent on faith, but divine election isn’t based on faith. Faith is based on election. If anything the chapter has a determinist bent with the language of predestination (vv 5, 11), good pleasure (vv. 5, 9), will (vv. 5, 9, 11), mystery (v. 9), purpose (v. 9; cf. v. 11), appointment (v. 11), and plan (v. 11). It also has verse 5 stating that God has predestined believers to become adopted as sons. The idea of being in Christ is just meant to say that God chose us in Christ as our federal head or that God chose us to be saved through the work of Christ. It isn’t about union with Christ. The theme of unconditional election comes from the Old Testament:
In the Old Testament God chose Abraham so as to bless him and to bring blessing to the nations of the earth through him (Gen. 12:1-3). Subsequently, the Lord chose Israel to be his treasured possession from among all the peoples. Her election was due solely to God’s gracious decision; it had nothing to do with Israel’s choice or righteous behaviour (Deut. 7:6-8; 14:2). It was because the Lord loved her and kept the oath he had sworn to her forefathers that he chose her for himself. Here in Ephesians, the object of God’s choice is us, that is, believers, who now belong to the people of God and praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is clearly a corporate dimension to God’s election. It was God’s intention to create for himself a people perfectly conformed to the likeness of his Son (Rom. 8:29-30). It is inappropriate, however, to suggest that election in Christ is primarily corporate rather than personal and individual.
O’Brien, Peter T.. The Letter to the Ephesians (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 2195-2202). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.
Take Brian Wagner’s interpretation:
The grammar (semantic meaning) of “in Christ” is crucial to this context and to this passage. The spiritual body of Christ is made up of all believers who were added to it by the Holy Spirit (1Cor 12:13). One cannot be in Christ, that is “in Him” before being added to that body by the Holy Spirit. See Rom 9:25 where before being in Christ one is clearly called “not My people” and “not beloved”.
Wagner doesn’t explain how we were chosen in Christ in eternity past. He cites Romans 9:25 which isn’t denying people are eternally elected but rather explaining that God’s choice will go beyond merely the Jews(beloved) to the Gentiles.
The grammar (semantic meaning) of “us” therefore in 1:4 must be
anachronistic. No individuals or group of persons existed before the foundation of the world to be chosen between except the members of the Godhead. It is understandable that promises made to one of those members would benefit any who would later be joined to Him spiritually, that is to His spiritual body.
Nobody thinks that people need to exist eternally in order to be chosen. Hence the predestination of those who were chosen. Wagner is asserting his Open Theism on the text. But what does it mean to predestine anything on Open Theism?
“The context (rational concept) of individuals being chosen before creation who do not yet exist in reality requires a definition of how they existed in God’s mind in order to be chosen there in His mind. One option is to be known in His mind as an eternally set group of individual lives (like biographies) which include all God’s interaction also as eternally set. This, however, makes any concept of “choice” an anthropomorphic expression, since no life was previously unchosen and then chosen. And no forethought would have preceded that “choice”, and God could not express free will and make any choices in the future of those lives forever.”
Why couldn’t God timelessly choose a certain timeline to instantiate with certain individuals to be saved? Wagner provides no argument for such a statement. The issue of God not having “forethought” is because forethought requires duration. That doesn’t mean God isn’t privy to having timeless thoughts and timeless reasons for his choices. So, what really is Wagner’s objection? Does Wagner think that time is independent of the universe? If not, then he thinks God must have been eternal(timeless) sans creation. If yes, then where does this time-bound world that God resides in come from? If he accepts the former position, then he thinks God didn’t choose to create the world and also put no “forethought” into the world.